Saturday, October 19, 2019
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Thinking of Nathan Brown

By Mark Frost, Chronicle Editor

I never forget that the purpose of Memorial Day is to honor those who gave their lives trying to defend freedom and our nation. In 2004, I took the photo that you see on the front page, of Nathan Brown’s casket leaving St. Alphonsus Church after the 21-year-old South Glens Falls soldier’s funeral. He died in the Iraq war.

The photo, and Nathan’s passing, stays with me, in the same way that Eddie Smith, my Glens Falls High School classmate who died in Vietnam, stays with me. Eddie was a really good guy.

I’d intended to include here a photo of Nathan Brown’s smiling face, but unfortunately, just now, when I went to import it, the digital file was damaged and it’s too late Tuesday night to seek an alternate. Years ago we had a catastrophe in our computer server; it left many images corrupted. Incredibly but somehow rightfully, the one photo from Nathan’s funeral that didn’t go kaput was the single color image that we show on page one.

Photo: The 2004 funeral of Pfc. Nathan Brown, 21, of South Glens Falls. Chronicle photo/Mark Frost

Doing a little research on Nathan last night, I came upon not only the good article that our own David Cederstrom did at the time of the funeral, but also a very lengthy television piece that NBC’s Tom Brokaw did a year later, in 2005, for the news series Dateline.

Do you remember the Brokaw report? I didn’t. But it’s amazing, in-depth, excellent. If you Google “‘To War and Back’: The story of seven young men – Dateline NBC,” the link pops right up.

The “seven young men” are Nathan and his six buddies, all from here, who joined the National Guard together. Along with Nathan, Brokaw said, “Tim Haag, a talented artist, went to high school with Nathan. Chad Byrne was a gifted athlete. Andy Flint signed on as a platoon medic. Ken Comstock was known for his love of the military. Pete Hull was an accomplished singer and Rob Hemsing an exceptional guitarist.”

Brokaw: “The life they knew revolved around Glens Falls, a town so ‘all-American,’ it was dubbed ‘Hometown U.S.A.’ by Look magazine during World War II.”

He says: “When they joined, it was a safe bet: No one from their infantry division had been sent to battle since World War II. But times had changed, and they were in the thick of it. Of the seven who left Glens Falls together, only six would make it back. Three would be seriously wounded. All of them would be changed forever.”

Brokaw gets into heart-breaking stuff, like showing Nathan’s home video he made for his fiancée in which he says, “Sara, I love you and I always will. And if I don’t come back from this, you know I loved you. And I care about you so much. You mean everything to me Sara.”

And some outrage, too. Brokaw talks to Nathan’s mom Kathy and delves into questions raised about whether the vehicle the soldiers rode in was well enough protected.

She says, “My son was killed in a 5-ton truck. Where’s his armor?” Brokaw says, “Kathy understood that Nathan might not have survived even if he had been riding in an armored Humvee as opposed to a 5-ton open truck. Still, the possibility that his death could have been prevented tormented her.”

Brokaw says at one point, “As for the politics surrounding this war, these soldiers think it’s irrelevant.”

Andy Flint tells him: “Soldiers shouldn’t be involved in politics because your only job is to fight. It doesn’t matter if you’re fighting a good cause or bad cause because when the fight starts, you don’t care. All you’re fighting for is your friends.”

We hear at length from these friends in Brokaw’s report. We learn of the difficulties they faced and continued to face and of their efforts to move on with their lives.

All in all, it was an extraordinary piece of journalism, and it’s about us — our young men, our soldiers, our ethic, our nation, our community.

I say elsewhere in this issue that Memorial Day is both solemn and summery. I hope you’ll have a fantastic holiday weekend — and that we’ll also think about Nathan and others who served and never made it back, and of those infinitely impacted by such loss. We can’t bring them back; we can remember and honor them, always.

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